The ‘Bonjour India Experience’ was the flagship initiative of the Bonjour India 2017-2018, a festival which celebrated Indo-French collaborations through more than 300 events spread over four months across 33 Indian cities. At the heart of the festival, The Bonjour India Experience pavilion was a one-of-its-kind travelling exhibition at the intersection of art, architecture, design and urbanism. The 9 meter high, 800 square metre and 40 tonne installation travelled approx. 3500 kilometres from the iconic India Gate in Delhi to Cross Maidan Garden behind the historic Churchgate Station Mumbai to become the star attraction of the world’s largest book fair in Kolkata over a period three months. It welcomed more than 180,000 visitors over a period of 30 odd days spread over the three cities. One of the first decisions jointly taken by the clients and the design team lead by SpaceMatters was to locate the pavilion in public urban spaces. While this may seem like an obvious choice, similar cultural events in India have been largely confined to institutional spaces such as museums and cultural centres. Often perceived as elitist, these spaces cater to a small segment of the population and their ambience is in stark contrast to the diverse energy of the urban public space in Indian cities. As cultural events retreat into gated zones the access to public space in Indian cities is also shrinking, increasingly being policed and monetised. Thus, when asked to suggest an appropriate public space in their city, associates initially suggested commercial malls! The call to locate the pavilion in truly public urban spaces presented countless challenges and it was a complex undertaking to navigate the maze of permissions needed to mount an installation of this scale in a public location. However, its interaction with the urban context became the defining characteristic of the pavilion and was instrumental to its success.
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